Hitchhiking was so ridiculously hard in Southern-South-America that we ended up losing quite a bit of our edge. Salvador is where we turn it all around.
Salvador, day one
We flew there from Rio. Our actual destination was Yucatan, in Mexico, but flying to Yucatan means flying to Cancun which is one of the most overpriced tourist destination in America which is very much reflected in the plane ticket prices. Or so says Cranky. So she booked a ticket to Salvador, that was like half the price. I wanted to tell her that there may be a reason why Salvador was so cheap, and that we might not like that reason. I should have. The reason is: shotguns.
There are guys wearing fake uniforms, holding a shotgun everywhere in Salvador. Bank? Shotgun-guy. Supermarket? Shotgun guy. Gas station? Shotgun guy. This has got to be the richest shotgun-fetish-country we’ve ever been to. I mean, shotguns can’t be cheap, right?
When we landed, we didn’t know that yet. All we knew was that it was already 3pm and the kids in Yucatan were waiting for us. And we owed it to ourselves to make it to the Mexican border hitchhiking all the way.
So we dodged our way through the crowd of taxitaxis that pounced on us like rabid tigers and walked out to the road and did our thing.
I’ll break the news right now: hitchhiking in Salvador works real real good, and most drivers don’t have a shotgun lying on the backseat. Which Weirdo said was nice because he hitched a ride with a bunch of hunters once and had to sit on a gun and it hurt his ass apparently.
The first gentleman took us from the airport into town. This would have been a freaking stupid move if the airport hadn’t been South of the city and our heading North. So our first task was to navigate around the capital. We got dropped on an interchange to a bypass. The place we settled for was easily the worst hitchhiking spot we’d had in ages. In a sharp turn, no space to stop, lots of traffic. Someone stopped anyway within 10 minutes. Let me rephrase that: Screw the shotguns! Salvador rocks!
Our second gentleman-driver took us to a rich-ass neighborhood that he told us was safe. Weirdo was a bit bummed out because he doesn’t like rich people. Plus it was getting dark, and we were nowhere near the highway.
We hit another one of those terrible spots. High-velocity, no space to stop, wrong lane-side. We had to wait for 20 minutes this times. For Salvador, hip hip hip! YAY!. The guy took us to the “last neighborhood before the highway”. I’m adding quotation marks because that was what we saw on the web-maps, and we were very skeptical about them. It was pitch black when they dropped us. That’s when Cranky started to freak out.
Something about the buildings around us, or the lack of street lighting, or what she read online about murdering mafia-gang types with shotguns, but she started feeling certain that we were going to get assaulted by evil no-gooders. She forbid Weirdo to talk out loud, for fear that the people would hear his frenchy-french foreign accent, and proceeded to completely panic. Weirdo decided it was a good time to go shopping. We were right in front of a shotgun-touting supermarket.
By the time our food supplies were replenished, Cranky had been demoted to mere trooper and Weirdo had decided we’d walk towards the highway, until we found something that everyone would agree on. Which, after half an hour walking, took the shape of a well lit gas station.
It was kinda late, but there was simply no way we were sleeping around here. Well, that was Cranky’s stance. Weirdo still took a stroll to find a camping spot. Without success. Asking for rides earned us some funny looks. Until we found a nighttime gentleman. He was going like 20 kilometers down the highway, our way. And he was driving a pickup truck. Weirdo just loves riding in the back of pickup trucks, even when the weather looks like a thunderstorm from hell is just about to break out. Right?
So, me and Cranky got in the cabin, and weirdo in the back. The truck got moving, and all hell broke out.
That it was the most violent rainstorm I’ve ever seen in my life might not amount to much. But it was also the most violent rainstorm Weirdo and Cranky had ever seen in their life. And one is from Yucatan, the other is from Réunion. So, trust me, it was hell of a rainstorm. And Weirdo was riding in the back, with both backpacks.
Driver slowed down but didn’t stop. We kept riding along, pounded by the storm, for another 20 minutes. Driver finally pulled over at a gas station under the protection of the high roof. We got down and turned to Weirdo, his poncho dripping like a waterfall: “That was awesome! Can we do it again?” And I was worrying…
Turns out he had pulled the backpack-condoms over the backpacks, and wrapped himself in the poncho as early as the first drops. He wasn’t even wet! And the backpacks were dryish too.
We would have gone inside the little gas-station-shop to recover, but the air-conditioning was way too fierce in there. Plus there was a dude with a shotgun at the entrance, and it was a bit intimidating. It was give-up-time, but the rain was still pounding, and we didn’t trust our brand new tent to be that waterproof.
Weirdo started asking around for rides, and he says the people were looking at him really weird. Like they half expected him to pull a machete or something. I thought I’d give him a hand. When he pointed a driver at me, I put on my cutest smile, and there we had it, our ride out of this place.
They were going to Santa Anna. That was on our way, and fine by us. I think all three of us dosed off on the way. It had been a long afternoon. When we got there, the rain had stopped. But we were in town, and it was muddy, and we were tired. We all agreed we could treat ourselves to paid accommodation.
It’s only when we got in the room that they realized what the place was. Something about the fact that you paid for the room by slots of four hours. I hope you’re getting it, because I’m not, and they wouldn’t explain me. I slept very well and I think the two oafs as well.
Salvador to Guatemala
In the morning, we packed and left early. Right next to the “hotel”, there was a place selling food that was ridiculously awesome. Cranky said it was really close to what they do in Mexico, and I can’t wait to go back there. Last time I’ve been, I was on a gluten-free 100% milk diet and I missed out on the food.
We crossed town to the highway, through large streets lined with cute little house protected by high walls and rolls off gleaming razor wire. People there sure were paranoid.
On the highway, we scored a ride pretty quickly. With a dude going all the way to the border-town. Hurray! From there, we found that we couldn’t walk to the border, so we had to hitch to it.
Hitching through borders is always a pain. Borders are a strong deterrent to traffic and they raise driver-defiance a couple of notches. I don’t really understand why they keep them. They aren’t just a pain to us hitchhikers. They’re a pain to everyone. It took us almost an hour to get someone to bring us the ten remaining kilometers.
Cranky and Weirdo went and did the paper-dance. The Guatemalan people that picked us up couldn’t be bothered to wait. So we had to get another ride out of there. I’d been hitching for a truck for a while, so Cranky got us one.
Trucks are way awesomer than cars because I can play in the back. And they’re always full of stuff to play with. I particularly like the pressurized air-gun. Weirdo was happy too because the driver was playing heavy-metal on the radio. We stayed a long time in this truck. He dropped us at a very hitchable crossroad to… oh, I didn’t tell you.
We were headed somewhere in Guatemala. In the same 50 km area, there’s an island-on-a-lake-town called Flores and a Mayan-ruins-place called Tikal. They’re both on the way to Yucatan. We could spare a little detour there.
So, we got dropped on a very hitchable crossroad under the mid-day sun. We had a quick lunch and hit the road again. A bunch of ladies in a SUV brought us 70 km along. They talked us into going to see some hidden local Maya ruins, even brought us there. They conveniently forgot to mention you had to pay entrance.
It was quite cool though. Or so I thought. Cranky and Weirdo had been to Palenque before, so they were all “meh”. Palenque’s got to be pretty awesome. I’d give you some more pictures, but with Weirdo losing his camera in Argentina, and Cranky losing her phone a month later, we’re dry.
By the time we got back on the highway, it was mid-afternoon already. We scored us a nice truck driven by the nicest truck driver ever. He kept giving beer and cigarettes to Weirdo. Told us some good stories too. Too bad we couldn’t stay with him longer. But he was going the wrong way.
Another crossroad, another ride. This would get boring if not for pickup trucks. Pickup trucks!
They dropped us in a really crowded place, on a terrible spot, where we scored a truck in 20 minutes, just before dark. For Guatemala hip hip hip! Hurrah!
We rode into the night. The driver was on his way to the lake where Flores is, but he was going to pause for the night on a gas station. We decided to do the same and ride with him again in the morning. We were very glad to see that the gas station wasn’t guarded by a shotgun-touting-meanie. The meanie had a M-16 assault rifle! The kind of thing oil prospectors use to shoot depleted uranium slugs into talibans! Weirdo thought it’d be better if those nutjobs were aware we were going to sleep near here, and that we were carrying no oil at all. He went negociating with sweaty hands. One gas station employee looked at him weird for a second, then pointed him to a flat piece of grass right in front of the gas station. “Bathroom is right next to it”. Very nice nutjobs indeed.
And the next day, we got to the Flores-lake.
We went to a cafe to have something to dip the biscuits in. Weirdo noticed they had a shower next to the toilets and got the owner to let us use it. We told them a bit of our little trip, and they refused our money. Yay for Guatemalans, right? We walked over the bridge to the island and explored a little. You’ll have to trust me it’s cute, because the pictures we took are the exclusive enjoyment of the guy that found Cranky’s phone. Weirdo is asking me to remind you kids to have a tracker installed in your phone. And to back up your stuff. I wish he would lose his stuff sometimes so we can see how he deals with it. Unfortunately, that never happens…
Then we got on a bus to Tikal, the Mayan-ruins place. Got there at 3pm. That was a bit late. So we decided to save on walking inside the park by… hitching a ride with one of the park caretaker! In a pickup truck of course. I waived at the squares on foot like a freaking princess. Muahahaha! And we got there:
We went around the place. That involved a lot of pyramid-climbing. This is what you see from the highest one:
And we got out when the park closed. Weirdo scored us a ride with a group of tourists before we reached the parking lot. Off we went in the setting sun.
By the time we got to the cross road, it was dark night. There was a little village by the lake. We had some diner at an open air stall and pitched the tent by the lake. That was pretty awesome, because we could have a bath in the morning!
If it hadn’t been that cloudy, the first rays of the sun would have found us packed and loaded. What, did I say something stupid? Weirdo just looked over my shoulder and burst out laughing.
Oh, I forgot to mention… The way to Mexico goes through Belize. So there we are, doing paper dance at the border, crossing into a new country.
Belize is funny because people speak English as much as Spanish there. The other funny thing is the total lack of firearms anywhere. The other funny thing is that hitchhiking doesn’t work at all. Not funny. After an hour of failing, we took a bus to Belize. Yeah, Belize is the biggest town in Belize. Very imaginative.
First of all, Belize-city is small. It feels smaller than Saint-Denis, in Réunion, which is to be expected given that it’s half the size. Actually, the whole country has only a third of Réunion’s population. We didn’t hang around too much. Cranky had planned it all. We hopped on a boat, and off to the reef barrier!
You remember we hung around the northern west-coast of Australia, hopping to find an opportunity to get to the reef. The biggest reef system in the world. Only problem was that it cost a leg, and they loaded you 300 at a time on a huge boat that brought you all to that same platform. Well, guess what, Belize has the second biggest reef system in the world. And it’s near, cheap and much less known.
By near, I mean near an island system. So hopped on a boat, off to the islands.
The first island was called Caye Caulker. It has only one village on it, and it’s a tourist’s village. We walked along the shore until we found a camping spot. We weren’t in a hurry though. We jumped in the sea from an almost deserted pier. “Almost” was two Unitedstaters retirees that were enjoying the benefits of having a first-world pension in the third-world. “I could never do that!” we heard the dude say whenever we told him anything we do. “I’ve traveled a lot in my life, but I never went anywhere without knowing that someone was going to pick me up from the airport and take me to my hotel reservation”. They were otherwise pretty nice. They pointed us to the abandoned hotel right at the foot of the pier: “There’s a guy that is guarding the property. He probably won’t mind if you camp on the lawn.” Let’s see… Right by the sea, with access to sweet water. Sounds like our kind of plan. Weirdo went to ask him, and scored us a deal.
Instead of camping on the lawn, he invited us to sleep in the lobby. We even got to go up in one of the rooms to take a shower. He even made fish soup for us. By us, I mean him, Cranky and Weirdo, me and his two boys. Yay! Other kids!
After dinner and washing up, we went into town. Every other building was a bar, every single customer was a whitey. We weren’t going to find anything that wasn’t full of tourists. Cranky and me got tired so we headed back. We heard the next day that Weirdo had finally found some non-tourists to hang around in the shape of a group of drug dealers that were supplying the whiteys with anything they had money for, and harassing every single woman that crossed their path. Somehow he thought their company was preferable to that of the tourists and spent a bit of time bro-talking with them. But he eventually got tired of it, so he grabbed a beer and went to drink it alone on the pier before coming back home.
The next day we went to the reef! On a little boat with two cool Belizeans and a dozen tourists. They didn’t have gear my size so I stayed on the boat. Weirdo and Cranky got to see plenty of cool fish. Including some sharks. They say they were small ones but, as far as I could tell, the were just as big as Cranky. Freaks.
In the afternoon, we took the ferry to another island called San Pedro.
Little flashback: On the bus from the border to Belize-city, we had met a really cool dude that told us he was from San Pedro, where he lived with his French mom. He had jumped out of the bus before we could exchange emails, but we knew enough about him to find him again.
We found the shop where his mother worked, got her number there, called her and found out our friend wasn’t here. We arranged to meet her anyway. Mainly because we thought his mom would be cool too, and that she might tell us some cool shit to do, and that she might even host us, or at least point us to a good spot to put up the tent.
We found her in the jacuzzi of some hotel we hitched a ride to. She was with a lady friend that, we found, was hopping from poor country to poor country every few years because they were so cheap she didn’t have to work. She also started talking about her new twelve-year-old house-servant and we wrote her off as the devil. The mom didn’t compute the fact that we were asking her what she thought would be a good place to set up the tent. We had to really hammer it in before she accepted to confront it: “But… but… It’s forbidden, and you can’t, and there is nowhere here anyway. The hostel down the road is cheap!” We wrote her off as retarded, went away from the jacuzzi, out of the hotel and pitched the tent in the undergrowth right next to it. Off to town!
We were some distance away from town. San Pedro was cooler that Caye Caulker because it had a significant non-tourist population. Another cool thing, that it shares with the tourist-only sister-island, is that there are very few cars, and plenty of golf-carts. We hitched one of them to town. Hitchhiking works wonders on both islands. Only with Belizeans though.
We found a cool no-tourists-allowed place for food, walked along the shore, got a hang of the place, and hitched back to the tent.
It was hot! The night with the three of us in the tent sounded like a bad idea. Weirdo pulled out a hammock and slept there. Somehow he was not eaten by mosquitoes. We got up early, packed and loaded. What! What’s so funny?
We went to another reef-diving stuff. This time, they decided that Cranky would go alone. I’d stay with Weirdo, we’d meet at midday and then Weirdo would go in the afternoon. So Weirdo and me explored the town a bit. When Cranky came back, she told us it was pretty much like the first time we’d been, so Weirdo decided to pass.
We could have waited for the next morning, for a direct boat to Mexico, but Cranky figured we could catch a ferry back to Belize, then a bus from there to the Mexican border, and from there a night bus directly to Yucatan. That sounded like a good plan, that had no chance to backfire at all, right? Of course, it was a total fiasco.
Stampede for the border
When the boat dropped us in Belize City, it was already afternoon. We made our way to the bus terminal. It was the most chaotic place I’ve ever seen. Nobody knew where anything was going. We hopped onto a bus that was going halfway to the border and figured we’d hitchhike from there, or just get on the next bus. It was slow. When we finally got there, we started hitchhiking; but we had forgotten something: hitchhiking in Belize sucks! Two hours later, we were still there. The bus to further had come and not stopped because it was full already. It was almost night when someone finally stopped: “I’m only going to the next village”. Well, better than nothing. He dropped us there, pitch black, no artificial lighting. But we had one thing going for us: a speed bump. And a pretty punishing one. Every car was going to get to have a long hard look at us in their headlights.
That’s when we figured that Cranky had misread the scale on the map, or something. When you heard her talking, it sounded like you could see the border from Belize-city. It was far, man! And we were only two thirds of the way.
Someone took us from there to the border town. Same case as in Guatemala: The border is not within walking distance. We had to take a collective taxi to get there.
We did the paper-dance on one side of the border and walked out, expecting to find the Mexican bureaucrats right there. But nothing. Nada. We walked a bit, but there was still no crossing. Finally we had to hitch a ride to the Mexican side. Which was five kilometers away! Obviously we were the first people to cross the border on foot ever in the history of this border post.
After having wasted more time feeding the paper monster, we found ourselves in Mexico, still far from the town where our night bus was going to leave in two hours. Two tourists flagged a taxi. We arranged to ride with them and share the price.
And, guess what, we got our night bus! We even had time to get some tacos before. You have to admit that this whole adventure definitely beat catching a direct boat from San Pedro, amaright? And we saved money too!
One last night in the bus and we arrived in Mérida, my grandpa and grandma’s city. More on that soon.